OLYMPIA—After a contentious debate on the House Floor earlier today, a measure to allow 16- and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote was finally sent to the Senate on a 52-46 vote.
“We’ve found that the earlier people register to vote, there’s a much higher likelihood that people will become regular voters and more civically engaged,” said Rep. Steve Bergquist (D-Renton), the bill’s prime sponsor.
Currently, the earliest a person can register to vote is when he or she turns 18 years old. House Bill 1513 will authorize people to sign up to register to vote upon turning 16 years old.
The bill incudes important safeguards to protect personal information: until the pre-registrants are 18 years old, their information will not be added to the official list of registered voters, and it will be exempted from public disclosure requirements, and from inclusion on the jury source list.
Millennial voters now make up a major subset of the American electorate and have the potential to affect the outcome of every election. However, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the rate of youth registration and voting has lagged in recent years.
Young people are more likely to become engaged voters when they get involved early in their life. The biggest predictor of whether someone will vote is whether they are registered. Studies show that implementing preregistration increases youth turnout 2-13%.
“Registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote gives them the opportunity to start from day one voting as soon as they turn 18, and that should make them lifetime voters. That’s the ultimate goal,” added Bergquist.
If Bergquist’s legislation gets to the governor’s desk, Washington will join twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Utah) and the District of Columbia, in allowing preregistration beginning at 16 years old.
House Bill 1513 is scheduled for public hearing in the Senate Committee on State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections on February 16.